John Oliver uses Trump-created tax exemption to cut taxes on $9.5 Million Manhattan penthouse

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Published by: Robert Laurie on Thursday May 11th, 2017

No wonder Oliver wanted Trump to run for President

I have a confession to make.  I think John Oliver's "Last Week Tonight" is funny. It's wrong about virtually everything, but it's wrong in an amusing way.

That said, I doubt the host has too much to do with the amount of entertainment I'm getting.  He probably just shows up, reads the DNC talking points he's handed, mugs, and leans on his British accent to sell his arrogant attitde. That's, OK, though.  Like I said, I think it's done well and ends up being pretty funny.  He's certainly better than the seven or eight other people currently doing the same thing.

However, hypocrisy is never far from a rich, left-wing, joke monkey.  Ripping on the wealthy is a growth industry, and John Oliver has made a tidy fortune by complaining about the one percent while simultaneously joining their ranks. 

On any given night, you can expect to hear Oliver carp about the estate tax, income inequality, and - his absolute favorite - IRS regulations that allow corporations and rich individuals to dodge federal debt with the help of fatcat lawyers.  The rich, you see, simply aren't paying their fair share.

From the NY Observer:

Back in July 2014, in an episode in which he lamented the Wealth Gap in America” (which has resulted in the richest one percent of Americans controlling 20 percent of annual income), Oliver said, “At this point the rich are just running up the score…What sets America apart is that we are actively introducing policies that disproportionately benefit the wealthy,” such as tax cuts and loopholes like trusts.

So it’s a little surprising to discover that just months before, Oliver had a tax attorney set up two revocable trusts, one for him and one for his wife, to hide the couple’s purchase of a $9.5 million Manhattan penthouse. Then he used a tax loophole created by Donald Trump himself back in the 1970s, when the current president was merely a prominent New York real estate developer and aspiring celebrity author.

How'd Oliver pull this off?  According to the Observer hired a lawyer and estate planner named Jay Waxenberg.  A quick look at Waxenberg's bio will let you know that he's precisely the kind of guy Oliver claims to despise: "He represents many families with significant multigenerational wealth, and has assisted them in the structuring of their estate plans so as to minimize gift, estate and generation-skipping taxes in the transmission of their wealth through several generations."

In other words, Waxenberg helps old money stay in private hands. Personally, I think that's a noble cause.  ...But then, I'm not John Oliver.

In Oliver’s case, Waxenberg set up two revocable trusts — JO, named for John Oliver, and KNO, named for his wife Kate Norley Oliver — with Waxenberg as the trustee and his law firm serving as the trusts’ registered address. The trusts were then used to create a shell company called Hoagie’s Place LLC, named for Oliver’s beloved dog. Incidentally, Kate Norley Oliver’s New York voter registration shows she is a Democrat and lives in the penthouse in question.

In 2015, Oliver and his wife used Hoagie’s Place to purchase a 39th floor penthouse in an Upper West Side building overlooking the Hudson River for $9.5 million. Property records show they put half down and took out a $4.75 million mortgage from J.P. Morgan. Neither Oliver nor his wife’s name appears on the mortgage, or any of the other property records discussed in this story. Hoagie’s Place is identified as the buyer in the mortgage, but its listed address is an office building in Encino, California that houses dozens of shell corporations and revocable trusts.

It seems Oliver's shtick might not work so well if you know he's making a fortune attacking people who run their finances exactly the way Oliver runs his own.  Since the snarky sarcasm that passes as comedy these days is based largely in a Holden Caufield-esque scrutinization of "phonies," it wouldn't do his career any favors if have people found out he's the king of the hypocrites.

Oh, and lest you think Oliver is just hiding his finances from prying eyes (which is also a noble goal) know that he's also exploiting tax laws to lower his annual property taxes. ...And, irony of ironies, he's doing so thanks to none other than his favorite target, Donald Trump:

Oliver benefits from New York’s property tax system, which offers huge advantagesto residents of rich enclaves like the one where he lives. For example, even though Oliver paid $9.5 million for his penthouse, the city assessed its market value for tax purposes at just $1.3 million. However, only $515,000 of that amount was billable for property taxes. At a rate of 12.8 percent, Oliver normally would have paid $66,390.

However, property tax records show that, thanks to Trump and Roy Cohn, Oliver gets the very generous 421-a tax break on the penthouse. Hence, his property’s billable value after the exemption plunged by over $300,000, and he owed just $27,343 for 2016. That comes out to a property tax rate of roughly 0.25 percent, which would make Ronald Reagan and Ayn Rand dance in their graves from happiness.

It seems that back in 1980, when President Trump was setting up Trump Tower, the city told him that the building wouldn't qualify for a 421-a break.  So, Trump sued New York and won.  The victory saved the future President $50 million in taxes, and set a precedent that existed until 2015 - one that John Oliver used to his benefit.

Look, this is the part where I remind everyone that I like the rich.  I'm a big fan of money, so I like to see people keep as much of it as possible. If the law is written in such a way that you can take advantage of it, more power to you.  I'd rather see the cash stay in your hands than be confiscated by our wasteful, squandering, government.

I also wasn't lying when I said I think "Last Week Tonight" is a funny show.

I just think if your entire gimmick is a comedic battle to fight "the rich" and stick up for "the little guy," it would help if you self-applied a few of your apparently phony principles.

Check out the clip below, where Oliver chats about Trusts, inequality, and tax schemes.

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